To say that the University of Michigan’s administration and the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) have not been on the same page recently would be a gross understatement. With the GEO strike ending Wednesday night after two weeks, the chasm between the two sides seems to be growing.
Now, the Big Ten’s decision to play football is driving the two sides even farther apart, with the University announcing that it will begin to conduct rapid testing on student athletes. Meanwhile, the University continued to neglect many of the demands the GEO has made regarding testing procedures for undergraduate and graduate students.
The lack of transparency from the administration and the contradictions with regards to testing have struck the wrong chord with members of the GEO.
“Yesterday (University president Mark Schlissel) said there is no capacity for widespread testing of students and staff,” Elizabeth Sokol — one of the Stewards to the German department — said. “And then he comes out and says student-athletes, coaches, trainers will get tested daily.”
Sokol affirmed afterward she has no problem with the testing of athletes regularly. Rather, her issue lies with the inequity of testing.
“(Resident advisors) are in contact with people every day who may or may not have COVID,” Sokol said. “There have been dining hall workers who have said that the lack of testing is so bad, that some of them have had to take it upon themselves to do their own testing. So I think that we should at least get the R.A.s and the dining workers at the very least this rapid testing, and of course those teaching in person.”
Sokol isn’t the only one concerned about the message the University is sending. Hanna Maier, an infectious disease research postdoc at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health voiced her concerns as well.
“Testing is already a problem on campus,” Maier said. “And testing the athletes daily highlights that we can do it if we want, and it’s problematic that we’re not doing it in other places on campus.”
For reference, according to the University’s own public COVID-19 dashboard, there were a total of 2,236 tests carried out in the week beginning on September 6. But, with the daily testing promised by the University for athletes — and well over 100 players on the football team — they will be administering close to 1,000 tests per week on just the football players alone.
The sentiment voiced by Maier mirrors that of many members of GEO and those at the University: A general lack of trust in the administration and its ability to make the decisions that are in the best interest of everyone on campus.
An overriding point raised by both Sokol and Maier is their belief that the University values one thing above everything else — and it’s not public health.
“The football team is bringing in the money from TV contracts,” Sokol said. “So that’s what the University cares about. They don’t care about the R.A.s or the dining workers who aren’t making them money. It’s just about money at the end of the day.”
This story has been updated since publication to reflect the end of the GEO strike.